Functions of the Family as a Social System

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Ackerman states that all the functions of the family can be reduced to two basic ones : (1) ensuring the physical survival of the species and (2) transmitting the culture, thereby ensuring essential humanness. The union of mother and father, of parent and child, forms the bonds of identity that are the matrix for the development of this humanness.
mother and baby family
Physical Functions of the family are met through the parents providing food, clothing, and shelter; protection against danger; provision for bodily repairs after fatigue or illness; and through reproduction. In “primitive” societies these physical needs are the dominant concern. In Western societies many families take them for granted.
Affectional Functions are equally important. Although many traditional family functions, such as education, job training, and medical care, are being absorbed by other agencies, meeting emotional needs is still one of the family`s major functions. Learning how to reach and maintain emotional equilibrium within the family enables him to repeat the pattern in later life situations. The child who feels loved is likely to contract fewer physical illness, to learn more quickly, and generally to have an easier time growing up and adapting to society.
Social Functions of the modern family include providing social togetherness, fostering self-esteem and a personal identity tied to family identity, providing opportunities for observing and learning social and sexual rules, accepting responsibility for behavior, and supporting individual creativity and initiative. The family actually begins the indoctrination of the infant into society when it gives him a name and, hence, a social position or status in relation to his immediate and kinship-group families. Simultaneously, each family begins to transmit its own version of the cultural heritage to the child. Because the culture is too vast and comprehensive to be transmitted to the child in its entirety and all at once, the family selects from the surroundings what is to be transmitted. In addition, the family interprets and evaluates what is transmitted. Through this process, the child learns to share his family`s values.
Socialization thus is a primary task of the parents, since the parents teach the child about himself, his body, peers, family, community, and age-appropriate roles as well as language, perceptions, social values, and ethics. The family also teaches about the different standards of responsibility society demands from various social groups. For example, the professional person, such as a physician, nurse, or lawyer, those in whom people confide and to whom they entrust their lives and fortunes, are held more accountable than the farmer or day laborer. There is also a difference in the type of contact society has with a particular group: for example, the postman or milkman does not enter the home, but the exterminator has the freedom to enter a home and look into every corner.
The parent generation educates by literal instruction and by serving as models. Thus the child`s personality, a product of all the influences that have and are impinging on him, is greatly influenced by the parents. The types and importance of family interactions in carrying out these functions in each life era are further discussed by Murray and Zentner.
Like an individual, the family has a developmental history marked by predictable crises. The developmental crises are normal, but they are also disturbing or fightening because each life stage is a new experince. The natural history of the family is on a continuum: from marriage or cohabitation; choosing whether or not to have children; rearing biological or adoptive offspring, if any; and releasing children into society so that they can establish homes of their own. In later life the aging parents/grandparents are a couple once again, barring divorce or death. The nurturing of spouse / children goes on simultaneously with a multitude of other activities: work at a job / profession, managing a household, participation in church and community groups, pursuit of leisure and hobbies, maintaining friendships and family ties. Or the person may decide to remain single but live with a person of the same of opposite sex, in which case the purposes, tasks, and roles of family life must also be worked out.
References :
Ackerman, Nathan, Psychodynamics of Family Life. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1958.
Messer, Alfred, The Individual in His Family : An Adaptational Study. Springfield, III.: Charles C. Thomas, 1970.
Schulz, David, The Changing Family. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1972.
Murray, RB and Zentner JP., Nursing Concepts for Health Promotion, Second Edtion, Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, N.J, 1979.
Murray, RB and Zentner JP., Nursing Assessment and Health Promotion through the Life Span (2nd ed.). Prentice-Hall, Inc, Englewood Cliffs, N.J, 1979.

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